Claude Julien out as Bruins coach

It’s a move that been anticipated, debated, and argued back and forth for what seems to be years.

At last, it has happened.

Claude Julien has been fired as the head coach of the Boston Bruins.

The firing comes as no surprise. A coaching change had been discussed as being on the horizon since the Bruins missed the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, which ended a run of seven straight postseason appearances. Now the Bruins are on the verge of missing the playoffs three years in a row for the first time in a half-century, when the B’s missed the postseason eight straight years from 1960-67.

The Bruins front office clearly believed a new voice was needed. That voice (at least for the time-being) will be Bruce Cassidy, elevated to interim head coach. His NHL head coaching experience includes 107 games behind the bench for Washington from 2002-03. He coached the AHL Providence Bruins for five years from 2011-16 before being elevated to assistant coach this past May.

Is Cassidy the right fit? That will ultimately be determined by management this summer. He’s certainly not in a terrible position, with a number of blue-chip prospects in Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Zach Senyshyn, Jeremy Lauzon, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jesse Gabrielle, and Jakub Zboril. With that said, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are on the back end of their primes, No. 1 defenseman Zdeno Chara is at the end of the road while David Backes appears over the hill with four years remaining on his contract after this season. Tuukka Rask, while capable of being a world-class goaltender, has been inconsistent over the last three seasons.

The Bruins were knocked out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture on Monday night, passed by Toronto – which lost to the Islanders in overtime – for third place in the Atlantic Division. Boston and Toronto each have 58 points, but the Leafs have four games in hand. Virtually everyone competing with the Bruins in the standings have games in hand on the B’s, including Ottawa (five), N.Y. Islanders (four), Florida (three), Philadelphia (one), and New Jersey (one).

Few will argue that Julien was the problem. He’s been given a team that has been highly-flawed, with holes up and down the lineup in recent seasons. This season has been no different.

At the same time, not many coaches last a decade. He’s one of just three coaches in Bruins history to coach 700 games. Sometimes you need a change, a new voice. It appears to be the case in Boston.

Added Character, Mental Toughness, Will Put Bruins Back into Playoffs

Between 2013 and ’15, the Boston Bruins funneled veteran voices out of its room, voices that were the fabric of the team winning the 2011 Stanley Cup and reaching another in 2013. The results were negative.

Guys like Shawn Thornton, Johnny Boychuk, and Andrew Ference – to offer a short list of those ushered out over that period – were loud, and more importantly resonant voices in the B’s dressing room. They spoke out, said what was needed to be said, and weren’t afraid to flip the table that had the post-game spread. Efforts to replace them were null, and the TD Garden ice has been down by mid-April the past two years because of it.

The character and mental toughness went missing along with the playoff pedigree. The Bruins weren’t a hard team to play against. The Bruins finished ninth in the Eastern Conference both years.

This season’s Bruins team doesn’t look much different than those teams. There’s talent at the top of the roster, but come up short in areas the best teams in the NHL don’t. It’s a team that looks destined to finish somewhere between seventh and 10th in the conference standings. Again, not dissimilar to the two seasons that have prior to this one.

But pencil in the Bruins as more likely to be seventh or eighth than ninth come the spring. Character, heart, and toughness – all qualities less measurable than corsi and goal differential, but still vital – have made a comeback.

The intangible spark added by the new veterans was evident in Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Washington. Going down 3-0, the Bruins claw their way back into the game, with Colin Miller tying the score with 11:41 remaining on a powerplay goal. The rally was started on a goal by one of those veteran, Dominic Moore, who has seven goals in 27 games.

Nobody stopped skating after Daniel Winnik made it 3-0 in the second while Washington eased up with the comfortable lead. Players stuck up for one another, shifts were approached like they were at a premium. Boston nearly won it in regulation before going to overtime, where Nicklas Backstrom allowed the Caps to escape with a goal 1:36 into the extra period.

Bruins moves in the offseason suggested a push to address the character issue in the room, and doing so without blowing the whole thing up.

That was none more evident with Don Sweeney prying David Backes away from St. Louis – where he’d been captain since 2011 – with a five-year, $30 million deal. A rugged forward who can play top-line minutes, the 32-year-old fit the mold of what was missing with the Bruins.

Same goes for Dominic Moore, brought in late in the summer after three years with the New York Rangers. While the Bruins were the 10th team Moore had played for since making his NHL debut in 2003, plenty of the teams he’d played for were winning ones, highlighted by the 2014 Rangers squad the won the Eastern Conference. He played in the East final in back-to-back seasons in 2010 and ’11, with Montreal followed by Tampa Bay, which fell to the Bruins in a seventh game. The former Harvard standout had been one of the better bottom-six contributors in the league, his character unquestioned.

Riley Nash was another bottom-sixer brought in with miles on his tires, he of 242 NHL contests and 188 more in the AHL since his pro debut in 2010. Also like Moore, the product of an Ivy League education, having played at Cornell.

As of Thursday, the Bruins hold a playoff spot, the B’s 32 points good enough for third in the Atlantic Division.

Backes has skated on the second line, flanked by David Krejci and Ryan Spooner. Playing 108 minutes of five-on-five together – second behind the 216 played by Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand-David Pastrnak – the line has a 3.87 goals-for per 60 minutes that leads the team, according to corsica. Backes has 12 points of his own through 22 games.

Moore has seven goals in 27 games while winning 54.9 percent of the 235 draws he’s taken, second on the team only behind Bergeron (58.6), and 12th in the NHL with a five-on-five faceoff percentage of 57.4, according to puckbase. Nash has taken the third-most faceoffs on the team (244), winning at a 53.3 percent rate. The two have taken 34 percent of the 559 defensive zone draws for Boston this season.

As the Bruins have learned in the past two seasons, you have to be tough to play against to win in the NHL.

This team has it.

Thoughts Are My Own: Hey, guys, there’s good Canadian teams this year

My thoughts as we get into the mind-numbing chatter of the possibility of a Montreal-Edmonton Stanley Cup final.

*So how about those Edmonton Oilers? Just keep chugging along, tossing aside the Capitals en route to a 6-1 start.

*A group is reportedly exploring options of building a 20,000-seat arena in Scottsdale, Arizona, a potential new home for the Arizona Coyotes. This would be huge for the future of the Coyotes franchise, which now appears to be there to stay after years upon years of relocation rumors. They’d be in the thick of things, closer to Phoenix, than they are currently in Glendale.

*Another stinker for the Bruins. Two nights, two losses by a score of 10-2. Chalk it up as a combination of bad defense and shaky goaltending. That combination is no way to go through life.

*Last time a team started four goalies in four consecutive games? That would be the 2010-11 New York Islanders, according to Elias.

*The more you watch Montreal, the more you realize just how good they are.

*Montreal in the first seven games over the last three seasons: 19-1-1 (6-1, 7-0, 6-0-1).

*Corey Perry passed Paul Kariya on Anaheim’s all-time points list.

*Brendan Leipsic had three more points on Wednesday for AHL Toronto, a 4-3 overtime win over Providence. The 22-year-old has 12 points in six games.

*The Albany Devils finally lost a game, denied the 6-0 start no AHL franchise in Albany has ever accomplished. The Devils fell to 5-1 with a 3-1 loss at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

*A pair of four-point nights for Stockton Heat forwards Daniel Pribyl (1-3–4) and Morgan Klimchuk (2-2–4), as the Heat beat San Diego, 7-5. Klimchuk is a former first round pick by the Flames.

*Nice little night for 2017 draft hopeful Nico Hischier, who had three goals and six points in Halifax’s 6-4 win over Acadie-Bathurst.

*Carolina prospect Spencer Smallman had his first career hat trick in the QMJHL on Wednesday, a 5-2 win by Saint John over Charlottetown.

*Kole Lind had a goal and three assists in Kelowna’s 6-4 win over Victoria. Both of Calvin Thurkauf’s goals were assisted by the 17-year-old.

*Still no Nolan Patrick in the Brandon lineup. He hasn’t played since Oct. 11.

Links

A profile on Maxime Comtois of QMJHL Victoriaville, who a scouting director of an NHL team said ‘reminds (him) of Rick Nash at that age.’

A look at how the OHL’s top prospects are faring after about a month of action.

The evolution of Brad Marchand into an elite hockey talent.

Kings sign Anders Lindback to a tryout contract.

Oilers sending shockwaves through the NHL as they race out to a 6-1 start.

A ‘golden era’ of Canadian NHL franchises on the horizon.

 

David Pastrnak Suspension Latest Instance of Zero-Tolerance Approach Taken Toward Hits to Head

When it comes to predatory and dangerous plays in the NHL, Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak is so close to the bottom of the watch list he might not even crack it.

But you wouldn’t be able to tell that based upon how the league ruled on the player for his high hit on Dan Girardi in the Bruins 5-2 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday night.

Pastrnak was suspended by the league two games for the hit, in which came streaking across the neutral zone on a 50-50 loose puck situation in the open ice, laying the hit on the Rangers defenseman in which he came up high, making contact with the head of Girardi. One of Pastrnak’s skates left the ice as he made contact.

That Girardi returned to the game after he was slow getting up and had to leave the game didn’t matter. That Pastrnak was a skill guy with no prior history – not even a parking ticket – on his record, didn’t matter.

What mattered was the hit was avoidable in the eyes of the league, and there was contact made to the head. The NHL will not stand for such incidents. The line has been drawn, multiple times. Pastrnak is the latest to learn the hard way.

The approach to head injuries are one of the major issues on the sports landscape (did you hear?). The best approach, of course, to head injuries is to prevent them. Real easy stuff until to realize the nature of sports like hockey, football, and soccer – just to name three sports – much of the play is conducive to head injuries and concussions.

So you have to change the culture. The league is doing that. USA Hockey is doing that. The NCAA and CHL are doing that. It’s a sport-wide effort, from the grassroots to the top of the sport.

The staggering spike in concussions reached a head about five years ago, a problem highlighted by Sidney Crosby having nearly three years of what will be a Hall of Fame career derailed by a concussion. In the summer of 2011, former NHLers Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, and Rick Rypien died – Boogaard a drug overdose, the latter two suicide – concussions believed to be the root cause of the premature deaths of the three.

It was clear something needed to be done. The game’s fast pace, the size of the players, and oversized pads can make the game a magnet for head injuries. And of course it’s impossible to completely wipe the sport clean of concussions. They will happen. But they can be reduced. And that’s what the league has worked to do, and unlike some other leagues, has been open, honest, and transparent that it’s a problem, that it needs to be addressed, and it will be their crusade.

According to the supplementary discipline tracker Sportsnet puts out, there were 39 suspensions and 26 fines handed down from the NHL last season, costing players an aggregate 176 games and $2.74 million. That was up from the 27 suspensions, 81 games lost, and $1.388 taken out of the pockets of players a year earlier.

Already this season there have been five suspensions that have cost players 14 games, according to Spotrac.

Two years ago, Mark Spector wrote an interesting piece examining the changes made in player safety in past years. The piece put the new emphasis put on changing the game – not so much taking out the physical play, just the unnecessary ones. The game has flourished as a result.

Is David Pastrnak a dirty player? No. Was it a dirty, dangerous, predatory hit? No. Was David Pastrnak targeting the head of Dan Girardi? Not likely. Was Girardi seriously hurt? No.

What matters is the result. Contact was made to the head, the hit could’ve been avoided. That’s what matters to the league.

And when it comes to hits targeting the head, the NHL has no tolerance for it.

Bruins Face Canadiens for First Time, Scott Stevens Returns to New Jersey, Brian Elliot Faces Blues

Quite a bit to watch on Saturday night as 12 NHL games are being played, including the first game between Boston and Montreal, Flames goaltender Brian Elliot facing the Blues, who traded him over the offseason. Zach Parise and Scott Stevens will make their returns to New Jersey as the Wild face the Devils; Parise, of course, as a player, and Stevens as an assistant coach to Bruce Boudreau.

Here’s the games being played: Toronto at Chicago, 7; N.Y. Rangers at Washington, 7; Montreal at Boston, 7; Carolina at Philadelphia, 7; Tampa Bay at Ottawa, 7; Colorado at Florida, 7; San Jose at Detroit, 7; Minnesota at New Jersey, 7; Pittsburgh at Nashville, 8; Columbus at Dallas, 8; Vancouver at Los Angeles, 10; St. Louis at Calgary, 10.

Players to Watch

Chicago: Richard Panik; Don’t look now but Panik is leading the Hawks with five goals in five games. Patrick who?

Toronto: James van Reimsdyk; Will not be playing against his brother, Trevor, as its being reported the younger van Reimsdyk will miss 5-6 weeks with an upper-body injury, as it’s being reported by Scott Powers of The Athletic. The two have played each other just once.

N.Y. Rangers: Mike Zibanejad; Off to a nice start with five points in four games.

Washington: Zach Sanford; The rookie expected to play Saturday after being out of the lineup on Thursday. Will face fellow ex-BC big forward Chris Kreider for the first time.

Montreal: Tomas Plekanec; The 33-year-old center seems to like playing the Bruins, his 46 points against the archrival is the most he’s scored against any NHL opponent.

Boston: David Backes; First game in the rivalry. In 11 games against Montreal, he has four goals and eight points.

Carolina: Victor Rask; The Swedish center leads the Hurricanes with five goals in four games. He had 48 last season, up from 33 his rookie season.

Philadelphia: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare; The French centerman is leading the Flyers with a 54 percent faceoff percentage. He’s won 24 of 44 draws.

Tampa Bay: Ben Bishop; The Lightning netminder played 23 games in Ottawa from 2011-13 before being traded to Tampa, where his career has since blossomed. He is 117-53-17 since that deal, with a .921 save percentage and 2.26 GAA. Bishop has twice finished in the top three of the Vezina Trophy voting in a Lightning uniform.

Ottawa: Guy Boucher; Yeah, yeah, I know. He’s a coach. But the Senators first-year bench boss spent three seasons as the head man in Tampa Bay, going 97-79-20. He led the Bolts to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final in 2011, his first season behind the bench.

Colorado: Patrick Wiercioch; The defenseman has four points in four games.

Florida: Jaromir Jagr; Jagr coming off his 750th goal of the season.

San Jose: Brent Burns; The defenseman has points in five consecutive games to begin the season.

Detroit: Thomas Vanek; Still second on the team with six points.

Minnesota: Zach Parise; Still hanging on 299. How fitting would it be to get 300 in New Jersey, where he spent the first seven years of his career?

New Jersey: Cory Schneider; Has a .938 save percentage and 2.00 GAA in four games. Going to need to keep it up; the Devils have six goals in four games.

Pittsburgh: Patric Hornqvist; He has four points in five games, second on the team behind Evgeni Malkin, who has five.

Nashville: James Neal; Played in Pittsburgh from 2011-14, had 89 goals and 184 points in 199 games.

Columbus: Zach Werenski; The rookie leads the Jackets in scoring.

Dallas: Devin Shore; The 22-year-old tied with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin for the team lead with four goals.

Vancouver: Jacob Markstrom; He’s stopped 68 of 73 shots that have come his way in three games.

Los Angeles: Jeff Carter; His 58.8 faceoff percentage ninth in the league.

St. Louis: Jay Bouwmeester; The defenseman played four seasons in Calgary. His 25:52 average time on ice was the highest among the three teams he played for (Florida 2002-09, St. Louis 2013-present).

Calgary: Brian Elliot; Played five seasons in St. Louis, had a 2.01 GAA and .925 save percentage in 181 games.

#HatTrickChallenge

James Neal: Hasn’t found the net in four games. Breaks out against his former team.

Game of the Night

Montreal at Boston: It’s never a dull one when these two teams face each other.

Lock to Win

Minnesota: Zach Parise gets his 300th goal against the team that drafted him and the Wild continue to roll.

 

 

The Joe Louis Arena Farewell Tour Kicks Off Tonight

Nothing that really jumps out in terms of game action for Monday; the most notable likely the Red Wings beginning its 81-game home slate at the ‘Joe’ for the final time, as the club will move to a shiny new venue in downtown Detroit next fall.

Here’s the action for tonight: Colorado at Pittsburgh, 7; San Jose at N.Y. Rangers, 7; Ottawa at Detroit, 7; Boston at Winnipeg, 8.

Players to Watch

Colorado: Joe Colborne – Scored a hat trick in his first game in an Avs uniform on Saturday night, a 6-5 win over Dallas. The former first round pick, playing in fourth organization after stays in Boston, Toronto, and Calgary, looks like he’s finally finding his game. He went for a career-high 44 points last season (previous was 28), and looks to only be continuing on the upward path.

Pittsburgh: Evgeni Malkin – Has three points in two games but has struggled in the faceoff circle, winning just 14 of 42. A 43.6 percent faceoff man for his career, Malkin’s faceoff percentage has gone down every year since his career-high 48.8 percent success rate in 2013-14.

San Jose: Martin Jones – It’s been two games, but he’s out to show last season was no fluke; 2-0 record with 47 saves on 50 shots in two games.

New York: Rick Nash – He’s pointless through two games, with just five shots on goal. Just the third time in his career he’s been held to such a low output through two games. Last season was one of them; the other was in 2006.

Ottawa: Craig Anderson – Senators are 2-0, but it’s not because Anderson has stood on his head. In fact, he’s allowed seven goals on 62 shots.

Detroit: Dylan Larkin – His praises were being sung – and rightfully so – during his standout rookie season a year ago. But he’s a minus-four with just one point through two games, winning 42.9 percent of his draws.

Boston: David Backes – Injured his hand in a fight during Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Toronto. He’s expect to play.

Winnipeg: Blake Wheeler – He has four points through two games while peppering eight shots at the cage in 21:55 average of ice time. The Bruins could use a guy like him…

#HatTrickChallenge

David Pastrnak: The Bruins forward caps off National Pasta Day the right way.

Game of the Day

Ottawa at Detroit – Not the sexiest matchup but nonetheless the home opener for the Red Wings, the final one at Joe Louis Arena.

Lock to Win

Red Wings – The Wings need the win on the heels of an 0-2 start. They haven’t been terrible offensively, but the Sens are vulnerable on defense.

Links

Larry Brooks stumps for the Rangers to go get Jacob Trouba.

Jimmy Vesey has yet to register a point, but he’s already making an impact.

Major decisions loom for Senators new head coach Guy Boucher.

Sidney Crosby continues to skate.

Red Wings shuffle lines after struggling in opening two games.

 

Preseason Power Rankings: Lightning the Class of the NHL

Here’s how the last two seasons have ended for the Tampa Bay Lightning; 2014-15, two wins shy of winning its first Stanley Cup since 2004; 2015-16, one win shy of becoming the first team in seven years to win back-to-back Prince of Wale Trophies.

And here’s the thing – the Bolts are only getting better.

The talk in the East has been about Washington, whether or not its the year the Capitals finally break through and put Alex Ovechkin’s name on the Stanley Cup. Of course, that’s been the dialogue for quite some time now. Then there’s also those who bring up the yearly ‘is this the year a Stanley Cup winner defends its title?’ That’s the conversation around Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, down in the central Florida resides the best team the NHL has to offer.

The Lightning are a team built for the modern NHL. A team the plays at a pace that emulates its name, Tampa goes four lines deep of skill players who use their legs as their greatest weapons in creating pressure and forcing teams to make mistakes. The defense corps is among the elite fluent-skating blue lines, led by behemoth Victor Hedman.

Steven Stamkos leads the charge as he kicks off an eight-year pact to remain in Tampa Bay. He’s complimented by rising superstar Nikita Kucherov up front, along with Tyler Johnson, who comes in poised for a breakout campaign.

Goaltender Ben Bishop is one of the world’s premier puck stoppers, while Andrei Vasilevskiy is as good a second option you’ll find.

Health is the big x-factor going into the season, which kind of goes without saying. But when you consider injuries that have befallen key players on the club over the past couple seasons, including Stamkos, Johnson, Bishop, and Anton Stralman, it becomes a little more magnified.

Regardless, this looks like the team to beat at the early goings.

2- Washington: Some might say 1-A. The Capitals have never been built so well for the playoffs during the Ovechkin era.

3- Anaheim: The window is closing. Expect Bob Murray to deal Cam Fowler or one of his blue-chip defensive prospects to provide help up front.

4- Pittsburgh: No team has repeated since the 1997-98 Red Wings. Reports out of Pittsburgh is that the Penguins really want to be that team to do it.

5- Chicago: 30 goals and 77 points as a rookie, yet Artemi Panarin remains grossly underrated.

6- Montreal: Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw add a lot of what was missing in the Canadiens room last season.

7- Dallas: Jim Nill needs to find a goaltender. But you knew that.

8- San Jose: The young guys on the Sharks were flying under the radar this time last year.

9- Nashville: The most exciting team in the NHL. Mike Fisher caps first year as captain by posing for a picture alongside Gary Bettman.

10- St. Louis: If Jake Allen performs to expectations, this team won’t miss a beat.

11- Florida: The Cats have a rebuilt blue line that emulates its in-state rival.

12- Calgary: The Flames won’t finish 30th in defense this season.

13- N.Y. Rangers: Sleeper Stanley Cup pick.

14- Detroit: A defensively suspect team, but the Red Wings should score at a pretty reasonable clip.

15- Minnesota: Bruce Boudreau wins. I could make a cheesy Donald Trump pun, but I’m not going to.

16- N.Y. Islanders: John Tavares wins the Hart Trophy.

17- Philadelphia: Steve Mason is solid, but the goaltending is still feast-or-famine. Everybody is falling in the Michael Leighton trap with Michal Neuvirth.

18- Boston: They’ll be in the thick of the wildcard race again, but the Bruins remain a good year or two away.

19- Los Angeles: The Kings are an Anze Kopitar away from being Team USA-bad.

20- Winnipeg: Newly-christened as the Jets captain, Blake Wheeler finally gets his due among the NHL’s best.

21- Buffalo: Don’t be surprised if this team makes the playoffs.

22- Edmonton: Connor McDavid leads the league in points.

23- Arizona: Oliver Ekman-Larsson makes a push for the Norris.

24- Carolina: Justin Faulk is a finalist for the Norris.

25- Ottawa: Erik Karlsson wins the Norris (again).

26- New Jersey: Cory Schneider can only do so much.

27- Toronto: Still 2-3 years away.

28- Columbus: Potential surprise team. Blue Jackets dispel the ‘John Tortorella only plays guys who trap and block shots’ theory. Zach Werenski wins Calder Trophy.

29- Colorado: MacKinnon and Duchene the bright spots in Denver.

30- Vancouver: It was clear Alain Vigneault was the problem.